A few months ago I gave a talk to Libertarian Home, of the sort that happen regularly at the Rose and Crown in Southwark. (They have a speakerless social at the same venue which I intend to be at, tomorrow.) My talk was … well, to put it kindly, it was somewhat less than the sum of its parts. It had its moments, but it didn’t add up. Worse, the more I struggled to pull it together, the longer it went on and the more incoherent it got.
But something good may yet have emerged from this muddle, because Libertarian Home’s Simon Gibbs and I recently agreed that it might make sense to rescue (i.e. for Simon Gibbs to rescue) one of the somewhat better bits of this talk and make it into a video short. Simon has now done this, with added graphics.
The subject is something I have already blogged about here, namely the tendency of statist measures to start out quite good, only later going wrong and then ever more wrong, and on the other hand the tendency of a truly free market, when a particular bit of it starts, to be a mess, and only somewhat later to start getting seriously good and in the long run superb. Two intersecting graphs, in other words, one going up and then down and down, and the other going down and then up and up.
My first label for this phenomenon involved hockey sticks, but when it comes to graphs the hockey stick is well and truly taken, and now I’m calling my graphs “alpha” graphs, because that’s how they look when put together.
Alas, even this bit of my talk could have been a whole lot more eloquent. For starters, I should have waved my arms around in a way that fitted how the graphs would look to the audience. As it was, I got them the wrong way around, sideways I mean, and hence somewhat clashing with what Simon does with them in his superimposed graphics. Nevertheless, the basic idea survives, I think, and is usefully provocative of further thought, as Simon demonstrates with his own further thoughts.
My own main further thought about the Alpha Graphs (here’s hoping those capitals catch on) is that the Adam Smith Institute should be mentioned in connection with them. One of the ASI’s basic tactical insights from way back is that there are indeed often many advantages to be gained and gamed by politically well-connected individuals or organisations or companies, from statist policies rather than free market policies, but that with a bit of cunning these tendencies can be countered, for instance by making the arrival of a competitive market very much to the advantage of a few big early participants, or with right-to-buy, right-to-sell arrangements with regard to such things as public housing that goes back into the market. It’s a matter of how you sell the new market, and to whom. Instead of just using Public Choice Theory (the Alpha Graphs being a tiny part of all that) to excuse libertarian policy failure; use it to point you in better (because more politically effective) policy directions.
That isn’t the complete answer to the problems described by the Alpha Graphs, but it is certainly a part of it.
The other thing I want to repeat in this posting is that I think that short videos are an excellent way to go, when it comes to spreading libertarian ideas, provided only that you know how to produce them adequately. (The technique has recently been used with great effectiveness by the Adam Smith Institute’s own Madsen Pirie to explicate basic economics.) I hope Simon Gibbs produces many more such video quickies in the next few years, and helps and encourages others to do the same, both in the form of excerpts from other bigger performances (by no means only from performances that he himself has recorded), and in the form of original creations of his own. Such a program could be a great developer of future libertarian star performers, as well as a chance for older libertarians like me to add their pennyworths.